Thailand Tips



David Whitley discovers that, if you’re planning to stay in Thailand for a while, it’s better to pick proper adventures instead of variety pack day tours


When I was in Thailand earlier this year, I headed up to Chiang Rai. I didn’t want to stay in the city for three days, so I decided to look into some day tour options. There were loads with different travel agencies, and I ended up plumping for one that offered a bit of everything – a few hours’ trekking through hill tribe villages, an elephant ride and a ride on a long-tailed boat.


As a day out, it was really enjoyable. It wasn’t one that I’ll be raving about forever, and it’s one that will never be regarded as truly special when I’m sitting on my deathbed recounting my life to sobbing family members.


On a return visit to Thailand in November, I ended up in Kanchanaburi and found myself doing the same thing. I wanted a day trip, had a look at the options with a few travel agencies, and ended up doing a day out that included a trek to the Erawan waterfall, an elephant ride, bamboo rafting and a train ride on the infamous Death Railway.


Again, it was a really enjoyable day out. The waterfall is gorgeous, the swim in the pools created by it was a welcome respite from the heat, the elephant ride was comically entertaining, the bamboo rafting and rail trip undeniably cool.


But I could foresee a problem here if I was planning to spend a few weeks travelling around the country. Day trips like this could soon get boring.


It doesn’t take much web research to uncover that similar day trips are available from many hubs across Thailand. Generally, these trips fit in three or four experiences that come from an increasingly predictable selection box. There’s trekking, visiting a hill tribe, rafting, kayaking, elephant riding, cycling and possibly a visit to a wildlife attraction that has dubious animal welfare credentials.


The problem is that once you’ve done a couple, they become very samey. And no one activity on any of them feels particularly satisfying. In Kanchanaburi, for example, the bamboo rafting lasted half an hour. It was nice, but it didn’t have the feel of an epic adventure that a half day or full day of rafting miles down the river would have done.


Similarly, there’s a massive difference between an hour in a kayak and having properly sore arms by the time evening draws in on a day-long expedition.


So my advice to people heading for a few weeks would be to pick out tours carefully. Research in advance where you can do one thing with a degree of depth – ie. A whole day’s elephant safari or a two day trekking trip – rather than continually plumping for bite-sized tastes of various activities across the day.


It’s better to spread the variety out over the course of the trip rather than taking similar doses of variety on numerous days. And that sense of achievement and epic adventure doesn’t come from small doses.

You can get Thailand included as a stopover on your RTW here


Bangkok on your RTW


It’s the gateway to Thailand: There are ways of going to Thailand without going to Bangkok, but chances are that if you’re planning to spend a bit of time in the country, you’re going to have a day or two in Bangkok. So you may as well embrace it rather than fight it. And, whatever you think about Bangkok, Thailand is a fabulous country to travel around.

It’s wonderfully affordable: Compared to other major Asian hub cities – such as Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur – Bangkok is really cheap on the ground. In the other cities, you find yourself watching the wallet. Not in Bangkok – food and drink is marvellously cheap, especially if you avoid flashy air-conditioned strictly-aimed-at-tourists restaurants.

That applies to hotels too: If you want to pick a city to splurge on a good hotel in, Bangkok is probably it. The Thai capital has arguably the best quality to price ratio in the world when it comes to hotels – and even flashy five star joints can be relatively affordable. The good news for the traveller is that there’s an oversupply of accommodation in Bangkok – and that means prices are driven down.

It’s a place that really grows on you: The secret to Bangkok is to stop trying to make it something it isn’t. It’s not the best place in the world for tourist attractions – once you’ve seen the temples and got on a boat, there’s really not all that much to grab your attention. Stop trying to charge around all the tourist attractions, however, and it’s far more enjoyable. Sleep in, stay out late, hit a few bars and generally be a bit lazy – Bangkok’s far more likeable that way. It’s a city that’s at its best when the sun has gone down – and once this is embraced, you warm to Bangkok frighteningly quickly.

It’s people-watching Nirvana: So much of what Bangkok is about happens out in the open. It’s about little street stalls selling food, markets flogging such obviously fake goods that they’re funny, and seedy bald men parading around with recently purchased Thai girlfriends. Bangkok is somewhere you can spend hours sat back bitching about the people that go past – whether the numpty with dreadlocks and a guitar, the hormone-ravaged horny backpackers or the local man trying to sell dodgy watches. It is, as a result, somewhere that is almost always engrossingly fascinating.


You can get Bangkok included as a stopover on your RTW here